Monday, August 28, 2006

Are You Ready For Some Football

I, of course, must start the week with yet another huge “Boomer” to Fite for an amazing week of pinch hitting. It was great to spend last week as just a reader and occasional commenter. It gave me a chance to not only recharge the batteries, but also to really enjoy some quality work. So, thanks to Fite, and thanks to all the readers for helping us survive the dark doldrums of August. Now, as August gives way to September, its time for us all to rejoice, because we’ve made it. That’s right WAD Nation, we’ve finally reached Week 1 of the college football season. So, for better or worse, I’m taking the wheel back and I hope you all will sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s with great pleasure that I am officially kicking off the WAD football season with the first of a week’s worth of conference previews: The Big 10.

Here’s how I see it breaking down:

With only one team ranked in the Top 10 in any preseason polls (Ohio State), it would seem that the only question to ask is whether anybody can beat Ohio State? Well, as a preliminary matter, I think we can assume that Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Purdue can’t. (Actually, Purdue is lucky enough to avoid Ohio State on the schedule) Sure, I could sit here and make arguments as to how each of these teams, on a given Saturday, could muster what it takes to pull off the shocker, but I think we all know that I’d be wrong. And, as you should know by now, I HATE being wrong, so let’s just skip that whole process. Instead, let’s dismiss these teams from the discussion. And, for that matter, let’s go ahead and dismiss Michigan State too. Why? Do you trust Drew Stanton? I didn’t think so. That being said, let’s take a look at the three teams that might actually be able to challenge OSU for the Big Ten Crown: Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan.

Iowa - The Hawkeyes have four huge positives heading into this season: Quarterback Drew Tate, tailback Albert Young, Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, and a tremendous home field advantage. Tate is a senior coming off a huge season where he threw for nearly 3,000 yards, 22 touchdowns, and only 7 picks. Not to mention he’s evidently a hell of a golfer. This off-season, Tate aced a par 3 in a charity tournament, but he had to forego the $25K prize because of NCAA rules. Just another example of the NCAA doing everything it can to protect the “student athlete”. As for Young, he ran for over 1,300 yards in his sophomore campaign, and he’s poised to pick up right where he left off. Ferentz is widely regarded as one of the top offensive minds in America, and he will undoubtedly make his way to the NFL before long. And finally, as for that home field advantage, the Big 10 is the only place in America where 100,000 people can congregate and make less noise than your typical Southern Baptist congregation. Well, Kinnick Stadium is one of the very few exceptions to the general lack of passion in the Big 10. While only seating just north of 70,000, Kinnick can get down right raucous, and those 70,000 can make a difference.

So, with all those factors working in their favor, the Hawkeyes have a legitimate chance to make this a special season. They will be 4-0 when the Buckeyes come to town on September 30 at 8 P.M. ET. Can they beat the Buckeyes? Yes. Will they? No. Why? Quite simply it’s because if they win this game, the Hawkeyes will only have one legitimate obstacle between them an undefeated season, at Michigan on October 21. So, you have to ask yourself: can you actually imagine Iowa going undefeated? Me neither. Hawkeye fans should go ahead and make their reservations for Tampa or Orlando for New Year’s Day.

Penn State - I’m going to keep this brief. New Quarterback + 93 old head coach + Ohio State in Columbus = No chance. Okay, maybe Joe Pa isn’t 93, but when you get north of 70 does it really matter? Last year was great for Joe Pa, and with the Big 10 making the Pac 10 look strong, PSU could win 9 games again, but they won’t beat OSU, and they won’t go back to the BCS.

Michigan - If you believe what you read, Michigan better win the Big 10 or Lloyd Carr is going to be joining Bob Davie and John Cooper in the broadcast booth. Well, if that is his fate, Lloyd may have the schedule makers to blame. They start the season against a pesky Vandy team at home, then they go on the road to N.D. in week three, followed by a road trip to Penn State a few weeks later, followed by Iowa at home the next week, and then they close the season at Ohio State. Ouch! Here’s the funny thing: Michigan could very well beat Ohio State, but still lose the Big 10. The fact of the matter is that they have five easily losable games on the schedule (N.D., Michigan St., PSU, Iowa, and OSU). The teams that are good enough to win their leagues never have more than one or two games on their schedule that cause you to say “they could lose that one.” So, Michigan isn’t going to win the Big 10. Just put that out of your mind. But, we all know that the Michigan/OSU game is one of those very few games where you really can throw out the records. We hear the saying all the time, but it’s only really true for a handful of games: The Iron Bowl, FSU/Miami, FSU/Florida, and Michigan/OSU. That’s it. There are at least a dozen other match-ups ESPN tries to sale with this pitch every year, but don’t buy it. In all those other games (GT/UGA included) the better team wins 9 out of 10 times. But when it comes to Michigan/OSU, you really never know. I mean, why do you think the aforementioned John Cooper is doing color commentary on ESPN 12 these days? So, ultimately, the Wolverines may very well ruin a dream season for the Buckeyes, but it will only be enough for them to share a charter with the Hawkeyes to Central Florida for New Year’s. And, unfortunately for the coach of the 1997 Co-National Champions, that’s probably going to lead to an extended golf season next year.

At the end of the day, as much as I hate to be predictable, I’m taking the chalk in the Big 10. I’m a big believer in Jim Tressell, Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., and I’m a big believer in the Buckeye defense (even without the guy that sees Brady Quinn’s sister naked)! I think they will take out Texas in week two, and I think they will survive their date in Iowa City on September 30. Therefore, when they finally host the Wolverines on November 18, I think the only thing at issue for the Buckeyes will be whether they will be making a return to Tempe, or if they will just be representing the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl?